Eleven years after the 9/11 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in three states, new information has emerged that affirms that George W. Bush and his inner circle of advisers ignored compelling evidence pointing to an imminent al-Qaeda attack.
New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald published an op-ed piece yesterday claiming that he has personally seen government documents not available to the general public which prove “significantly more negligence” on the part of top Bush officials than previously disclosed.
The August 6, 2001 classified memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” released by Bush in 2004 under pressure from the 9/11 Commission, is well-known. That memo warned that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives were preparing for “hijackings or other types of attacks” on targets in New York, Washington, DC and elsewhere.
But according to Eichenwald, presidential briefs preceding the infamous August 6 memo are more damning. He cites multiple “direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack” that began in the spring of 2001, including a June 22 daily brief warning of an “imminent” attack.
Eichenwald claims that top administration officials “considered the warning to be just bluster.” Neoconservative leaders, who had been hell-bent on invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein as part of their grand design for US global domination long before 9/11, asserted that bin Laden was merely faking preparations for an attack in order to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein.
US intelligence officials, Eichenwald says, were unable to convince Bush how ludicrous the notion of Hussein, an avowed secular nemesis of Islamic fundamentalists, cooperating with bin Laden was.
“The CIA prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from bin Laden was real,” Eichenwald writes.
Yet even as more warnings poured in over the summer, the White House failed to act. According to Eichenwald, things got so bad that one CIA official suggested that staff request transfers so others would take the blame when the imminent attacks occurred.
While Eichenwald’s details may be new, it has been a well-known yet underreported fact that there were many glaring warnings of the 9/11 attacks in the year leading up to the tragedy. FAA officials knew in early 2001 that Hani Hanjour, the suicide pilot who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, couldn’t fly or speak English well enough to be worthy of the commercial pilot’s license he already had. The FBI had known for years that al-Qaeda terrorists were training at US flight schools; FBI agents Ken Williams and Colleen Rowley were nevertheless not taken seriously when they expressed alarm over terrorists enrolled in aviation schools who were only interested in learning mid-air maneuvers and not take-off and landing.
When intelligence from Afghanistan pointed to an al-Qaeda attack inside the United States over the July 4 holiday, President Bush didn’t even call a formal cabinet meeting. Nor did he convene a meeting after he learned that the terror group may have been planning to assassinate him at a summit in Italy that same month.
More clues from the spring and summer of 2001: an Iranian prisoner in New York told police of a plot against the World Trade Center; German intelligence warned the CIA that terrorists were preparing to hijack planes; Pakistanis arrested in the Cayman Islands had information about hijacking attacks in New York; Israeli and Jordanian intelligence indicated that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent– even Russian security agencies alerted the United States that suicide pilots were preparing to attack American targets.
US intelligence also keenly felt a sense of impending doom. There were multiple reports of imminent attacks both at home and abroad. A terrorist informant warned that bin Laden was preparing to use commercial airliners in “spectacular and traumatic” attacks.
“Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon,” counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke warned on July 5. Clarke placed counterterrorism officials on a heightened state of alert while CIA Director George Tenet declared that “it is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” Tenet was so alarmed that he demanded an emergency meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at the White House. There, he briefed her and other top national security officials about the imminent threat. Nothing much seems to have come out of this July 10 meeting, although Rice later claimed that it was “incomprehensible” that she would ignore the threat of an al-Qaeda attack.
President Bush received the now-infamous “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo while vacationing at his Texas ranch on August 6. He doesn’t seem to have been fazed much by the alarming intelligence. He remained on his ranch for the rest of the crucial month of August while warnings of the looming attacks seemed to fall upon deaf ears.
“Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people,” Bush swore in the aftermath of 9/11. While the president didn’t know exactly where and when al-Qaeda would strike, the evidence suggests that he could have done more to try to avert what was at least a possibly preventable tragedy.
“There is at least some chance that [we] may have limited the September 11th attacks and the resulting loss of life,” former FBI agent Colleen Rowley, who warned about the 9/11 hijackers, said. Rowley’s excoriating letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller accused the Bureau of “deliberately obstructing measures that could have helped us disrupt the 9/11 attacks.”
On August 4, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been chosen to be the would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker, was stopped in an Orlando, Florida airport and sent home. Two weeks later, 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota after officials at his flight school grew suspicious. The Bush administration did nothing.
Just weeks before 9/11, an aide to Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil traveled to Pakistan to warn US Consul-General David Katz that Osama bin Laden was preparing a massive attack on American soil. Muttawakil was disenchanted with the presence of bin Laden and other foreign militants on Afghan soil, correctly perceiving that the US military response to the impending terror attack would devastate his already wretched country. The United States ignored this invaluable heads-up. ‘Warning fatigue,’ it seems, had taken a serious toll on the Americans’ ability to process credible information that could have helped thwart the attacks.
On September 12, 2001 Newsweek reported that a “particularly urgent warning” may have been issued to “top Pentagon brass” on the night of September 10, causing some of them to cancel a planned flight. That same day, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted two encrypted communications; one said that “the big match” was scheduled for the next day, the other referred to 9/11 as “zero hour.” Due in part to a woeful dearth of Arabic linguists, these messages were not translated for two days.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile,” Condoleezza Rice later said about the tragic events of September 11, 2001. But not only had those precise actions been predicted for years prior to 9/11, top Bush administration officials had been repeatedly warned that they were about to happen. None have faced any accountability for their negligence.